Disaster Assistance: Federal Assistance for Permanent Housing Primarily Benefited Homeowners; Opportunities Exist to Better Target Rental Housing Needs

GAO-10-17 Published: Jan 14, 2010. Publicly Released: Feb 16, 2010.
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In response to the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes, Congress provided about $130 billion in disaster recovery assistance, including assistance for permanent housing. Congress has expressed an interest in how this assistance has been allocated to homeowners and rental property owners, particularly for state-administered programs. GAO's objectives were to review (1) how federal disaster-related assistance for permanent housing has been provided to homeowners and rental property owners, (2) the extent to which federally funded programs have responded to the needs of homeowners and rental property owners, and (3) the challenges that homeowners and rental property owners have faced in applying for and using federal assistance, and potential options for addressing these challenges. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed documentation for key programs and program data, and interviewed federal, state, and local officials regarding the challenges associated with these programs.

Federal post-disaster assistance for permanent housing was made available to homeowners and rental property owners following the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes through grants, loans, and tax incentives. State agencies were largely responsible for administering the programs that delivered most of the assistance, including the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, the most widely used source of federal funds. Congress provided states with broad flexibility in their use of CDBG funds. Federal programs GAO reviewed addressed the repair and replacement needs of more homeowner units than rental units. In both Louisiana and Mississippi, more homeowner units were damaged than rental units, but the proportional damage to the rental stock was generally greater. Programs GAO reviewed provided about $13 billion in assistance for the repair and replacement of about 303,000 homeowner units, and about $1.8 billion for over 43,000 rental units. When the estimated number of assisted units is compared to the estimated number of damaged units, 62 percent of damaged homeowner units and 18 percent of damaged rental units were assisted. The difference in the level of assistance for homeowner and rental units was largely due to states' decisions to award the majority of their CDBG funds to programs for homeowners. When attempting to use the programs GAO reviewed, both homeowners and rental property owners encountered delays in funding availability and other challenges, which have likely contributed to the slow pace of recovery in some areas and fewer affordable units for renters. GAO and others have previously recommended options to minimize these challenges. However, without specific direction on how to better target disaster-related CDBG funds for the redevelopment of homeowner and rental units after future disasters, states' allocation of assistance to homeowners and rental property owners may again result in significant differences in the level of assistance provided.

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Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
To the extent that the CDBG program continues to be the primary vehicle used to provide post-disaster assistance for permanent housing, Congress may wish to consider providing more specific direction regarding the distribution of disaster-related CDBG assistance that states are to provide for homeowners and renters. If Congress wishes to change the proportion of assistance directed to homeowners and rental property owners in future recovery efforts, Congress could, for example, require states to demonstrate to HUD that they are adequately addressing the needs of both homeowners and renters with their CDBG allocation and other resources as a condition for receiving funds. Alternatively, Congress could direct HUD to develop a formula that accounts for the housing needs of both homeowners and renters. Such a formula could be used by states to determine the proportions of their disaster CDBG funds that should be used for housing, specifically rental housing. Further, the formula could also reflect the anticipated production levels of other programs that provide permanent housing assistance, such as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.
Since 1993, Congress has appropriated Community Development Block-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding in the wake of numerous presidentially-declared disasters, including, most recently, $5 billion in Public Law 117-43 for disasters that occurred in 2020 and 2021. Similar to previous CDBG-DR appropriations, the most recent the CDBG-DR appropriation in Public Law 117-43, enacted September 30, 2021, neither requires states to demonstrate to HUD that they adequately addressed the needs of both homeowners and renters nor, alternatively, directs HUD to develop a formula that accounts for the housing needs of both homeowners and renters. The CARES Act (enacted on March 27, 2020), P.L. 116-136, Division B, entitled "'Emergency Appropriations for Coronavirus Health Response and Agency Operations,'' appropriated $5 billion for the "Community Development Fund" but it was "to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus."

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